The ‘run’ (sail) to Futuna is a requirement for those of us who enjoy Fiji enough to wish to extend our time past the 18 month visa permitted for our vessel. Our time had already been gratuitously extended last spring courtesy of Fiji customs who granted us a 6 month extension due to Cyclone Winston. Our time was up and so off we sailed.
The trip is 300 km and waiting for favourable conditions is not always an option. Our Visa was expiring on Oct 15 and we checked out of Vuda on Oct 13. Lucky for us the winds were favorable being sufficiently south of east to make it pretty much a beam reach all the way. Upon arrival on Sunday we chose an alternate anchorage to the main harbour which is completed exposed to the ocean swell.
We put our hook down on the west side of Alofi Island the eastern island of the two island grouping known as Futuna. It wasn’t long before we had locals swimming out to the boat to wish us a friendly Bonjour and chat about their picturesque little islands isolated out in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. With the current running fast and the occasion roller coming thru we pretty much did donuts on the hook...here is a pic of our track at anchor. Do you see anything in the Pic?....Kaija sees a Troll...I think he looks like an old Rastaman :o)
As described in the Lonely Planet South Pacific Guide Wallis & Futuna (and who?) two little volcanic specks lying smack in the middle of Polynesia/Melanesia far from the modern world and it’s Claymation comedies. Wallis and Futuna’s French-funded economy allows islanders to drive flashy 4WDs to and from their taro fields and enjoy satellite TV at night after their evening meal and Kava, but the culture and its intricate customs have remained remarkably intact.
The population is equal parts proud and protective of their way of life and, as long as the airfares and cost of living stay as high as they are (this place makes Tahiti seem cheap), it’s not likely to receive heaps of honeymooners or package tourists any time soon. Movements for independence are few: the hospitals, schools and highly paid government jobs are all welcome enough additions and the people don’t mind putting up with a few handfuls of French-expats.
Wallis and Futuna, which lie 230 km away from each other (with Futuna approx. 300 km northeast of Fiji), are linked through French colonialism, period. Wallis has ancestral connections with Tonga, while Futuna traces its roots to Samoa. This is evident in the languages, which are quite different, although mutually comprehensible, as well as the Samoan like tapa designs of the Futunans and the Tongan influenced designs found on Wallis. The two islands remain competitive with each other, but Wallis, being more populous and the centre of government, retains the upper hand.
After a couple of rolly nights at anchorage we made our way into the open roadstead harbour of Leava. Everything of note is concentrated in Leava, Futuna’s major centre, on the south coast. There are a couple of supermarkets, the island’s administrative headquarters (there’s even a library) and a wharf…well kind of. We were the only boat there, thankfully, but we are told they have had as many as 7 boats in that tiny anchorage at one time…which seemed to us highly problematic.
We rowed to shore as quickly as possible and literally thru out our dinghy hook, walked thru the mud and very old looking traditional Ulu andmade our way to customs.
We must say, despite the inconvenience of anchoring and landing, once ashore the folks there are about as friendly as you could want. The customs lady was very nice and presented Kaija with a lovely and very aromatic Lai and no sooner had our paper work done which included not only check in but check out after telling us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked. She then drove us down the road to the local Gendarme for immigration stamping and again we were treated very kindly.
With our paperwork out of the way, we hitchhiked back to town and availed ourselves of the wonderful French baguettes and French cheeses at the supermarket and with our arms full, we made it back to the boat.
Being exposed to the ocean swell made it a very uncomfortable rolly anchorage and we decided to weigh anchor and set sail for our return to Fiji. Our passage back was uneventful other some snotty weather and ocean swell, but the wind stayed on the beam and we made good time.
Two days later we were back at Savu Savu Fiji, checked in and ready to begin our final season in this enchanted South Seas island chain.
We have enjoyed that past month anchored at the Cousteau resort, then a couple of weeks diving the reefs of Namena, exploring some of the smaller sheltered hurricane/cyclone holes along the south coast of Vanua Levu and now reuniting with old friends here in Savu Savu.
We are looking forward to a wonderful Christmas as we enjoy the local fair. There is a wonderful mixture of traditional Christmas music and the traditional Polynesian/Indian sounds of Fiji in the air, the streets and shops are bustling and just when you thought people couldn’t be any friendlier, you are stopped on the street by locals who shake your hand and say Bula Bula, Welcome to Fiji. It is cyclone season and this weekend was our first reminder as a tropical depression came close but has now passed us by. It is quite warm and the rains are falling…but even so…this is a beautiful country with smiling happy people and warm clean waters to sail and enjoy. A true sailors delight and perhaps Paradise on Earth.